ALCOHOL-RELATED illnesses and deaths are significantly higher in neighbourhoods with more licensed premises, research has shown.
In areas with the most places to buy drink, alcohol-related death rates were more than double those in places with the fewest outlets, a new study found.
Health experts say the findings show that cutting the number of licensed premises could have significant health benefits.
Researchers at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities looked at 6,505 datazones - small areas representing neighbourhoods - and compared the number of alcohol outlets in each with the number of alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths recorded there.
They found 34 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 people in neighbourhoods with the most off-sales outlets compared with 13 per 100,000 in the areas with the fewest.
A report on the findings concluded that “each increase in outlet availability was associated with a higher death rate”, with off-sales outlets thought to have the greatest potential for harm.
The report said: “Locations with high concentrations of on-sales outlets may encourage harmful drinking episodes through the coming together of drinkers and competitive drinks markets.
“High concentrations of off-sales outlets also create more competitive markets, with alcohol promotion tactics such as loss-leading and discounting used to compete with other stores.
“Competitive pressures on smaller convenience stores can also result in alcohol being sold to street drinkers or sold as single cans.
“Hence, above certain outlet availability thresholds the drinks market may become competitive enough to encourage significantly more harmful drinking episodes that result in hospitalisation.”
One in every 20 deaths and one in every 20 hospital episodes in Scotland is attributable to alcohol and the country has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the UK, according to the report.
Dr Elizabeth Richardson, from the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The role of local neighbourhood environments in enabling drinking has received little attention in Scotland to date, but our findings show that this is a serious oversight.
“The strong relationship we found between alcohol outlets and related health outcomes leads us to suggest that reducing outlet numbers, particularly in the highest availability neighbourhoods, could have health benefits for the Scottish population.”
The research was commissioned by the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland.
Chief executive Dr Evelyn Gillan said: “This study should encourage all of us to think about how the environment we live in can have a bearing on health.
“If we want fewer people to end up in hospital or lose their lives because of alcohol, then we have to be concerned about the high number of alcohol outlets in our neighbourhoods.
“Licensing boards have a key role to play in regulating the overall number of licensed premises and their decisions should be informed by studies such as this.”